Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

April 17, 2010

TIM'S TAKE: Playoffs can turn just that quickly

BUFFALO — Wanna know just how small the margin of error is come playoff time in the National Hockey League?

About six inches, according to Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. After Saturday’s Game 2 loss to the Boston Bruins, Miller sized up what might have the been the matinee’s biggest play — an odd-man rush deep in the Bruins’ zone that quickly turned around and resulted in a Boston goal that tied the game at 3-3 early in the third period.

Rookie Tyler Ennis led an offensive charge, spotting a teammate who was trailing the play. His pass back just missed, and the Bruins rushed the other direction on a play Michael Ryder finished to even things up.

“You’d like to see the puck go on the net there, but the guy with the puck has to make a decision. One of the options he does have is to hit that guy trailing if we have a guy breaking through and I think we did,” Miller said.

“I’m not going to split hairs on that one. Six more inches on the tape, we score and you guys are talking about what a great play it is, so we’re not going to start getting into that.

“It ended up costing us, but we could have regrouped from there.”

Six inches. If Ennis’ pass turns into a goal, the Sabres would’ve tucked their heads down Saturday night with a comfortable 2-0 lead in the series, and nothing but good vibes about their upcoming jaunt to Beantown. Instead, they’ll need to scramble against a team that’s found new life after a rare offensive outburst.

It’s hard to knock Ennis for being creative, especially in a series where the goaltenders are the biggest stars. Goals were supposed to be at a premium, not coming eight in one afternoon as they did Saturday.

But the magnification of a good play gone bad is exactly what a new crop of Sabres needs to grasp. Playoff hockey can turn that quickly. At one moment, your hottest offensive threat is breaking in on what appears to be a great scoring chance. A minute later, he’s hobbling to the bench and you’re wondering if you have the firepower to compete.

When Thomas Vanek got hacked down by Johnny Boychuk in the first period, the Sabres were up 2-0 and seemingly on their way to a similar lead in the series. Now, with him potentially missing more action, they’re wondering how to repair lines that never seemed to fine a flow after he left.

“He was skating well, he was involved physically, he was involved defensively,” Jason Pominville said of Vanek before he headed down the tunnel. “He and Derek were playing well. He was on a roll. To see him miss a part of a game was definitely tough.”

There was no definitive word on Vanek’s status as of late Saturday, although coach Lindy Ruff said he assumed Vanek would make the trip to Boston.

With seven playoff first-timers in the lineup, the Sabres learned a difficult lesson on Saturday about hitting the cruise control with a 2-0 lead. Second-period swoons cannot continue if they plan to make a deep run.

And plays can’t be missed when the opportunity surfaces — even by just the fewest of inches.

Buffalo needs to play with the same intensity Boston played with on Saturday afternoon.

“They played desperate. They played exactly they way they had to to tie the series up,” rookie Tyler Myers said of the Bruins.

“Now we’re going to have to come in Game 3 in Boston with a little more urgency.”

Contact sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.

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